I read about what people do to each other, in the name of God, or Justice, or Liberty, or Ism (take your pick), and I feel fortunate that all I ever have done in my sixty-two years of living so far, is read. I sometimes even wonder if what happened before is only my own furtive and over-creative -- and admittedly violent --imagination, before I stop and realize I am not so important that humanity is my personal invention.
I am sitting next to my lovely bride watching the Tanglewood 75th Anniversary Great Performance (recorded for our convenience with our DVR) on a lazy Thursday afternoon. Immanuel Ax is performing a Haydn piano concerto, lovely and calm and proof in its own right that I am NOT the center of the creative universe. I never in my wildest imaginings would have composed such a piece of music. Just not my style. Lovely, but not me --I'm more of a Shostakovich kind of guy. And though I love his music, I know I never could have come up with that, either.
I am really quite insignificant. Easily overlooked, like the rabbit in the burrow while the fox hunts down the sprinters. This has served me well, as the kinds of conflicts that writers write about and composers try to capture in their music I have experienced only on an intellectual level. I do like to think that I have a gift for empathy, so that I can walk a mile in someone else's shoes without actually having to try them on. So I feel pain even when it is not mine, and that leads me to feel sadness that humans are so good at inflicting pain on each other.
We even enjoy it, relish in it, glorify it, fantasize about it.
For example, we are so proud of killing Osama Bin Laden that now there is controversy over who should get credit for it. My take: President Obama is the Commander in Chief. We got Bin Laden on his watch. If Ronald Reagan could take much of the credit for freeing the Iran hostages on his inauguration day, shouldn't the credit go to the man who had been in office for two full years when Public Enemy Number One was dispatched? The fact is that George Bush had almost eight full years to find the man and couldn't.
Still, it seems to me that we are missing the point. The point IS that we are proud to have killed another human being. No matter how heinous Bin Laden was, there should be no pride in it. Relief yes, pride no. To paraphrase a minor character's best lines on a SyFy show from several years back, "Killing is wrong. Always. Sometimes it is necessary, but it is always wrong." And it is nothing to be proud of, nor is the need for it something to be celebrated.